From Canvas to Stage: Matisse and Picasso as Costume Designers for the Ballet Russes

Student Author(s)

Mary Elizabeth Winther

Faculty Mentor(s)

Professor Michelle Bombe

Document Type


Event Date



In 1909, Sergei Diaghilev arrived in Paris with a troupe of dancers that would soon take the city by storm. This company, The Ballet Russes, would later revolutionize the world of dance, music, and art. Between 1909 and 1929 the company would dance in Paris, as well as across Europe in countries such as Spain, and in both North and South America. Diaghilev employed only the finest dancers, choreographers, and designers, including, between the years 1917 and 1920, the celebrated painters Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Picasso and Matisse have long been considered pioneers in the art world and the fathers of distinct movements in painting, namely Cubism and Fauvism. Although the lives and works of Picasso and Matisse have both been the subjects of extensive research, little scholarship has been dedicated to analyzing the relationship between their paintings and their work in the performing arts. Through my research I hope to not only construct a scholarly and artistic analysis of their costume designs, but also begin to bridge the gap in understanding how their work for a ballet company fit into the longer story of their ever evolving painting styles. With the resources I have accumulated, in particular the photographic and textual sources that I was able to study in the research library housed in the Paris Opera House (a branch of the National French Library), I have begun to articulate an analysis of how the two-dimensional painting styles of Picasso and Matisse translated into three dimensional costumes.

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